FIVE new cars were burned out after the transporter they were travelling on burst into flames on the A19.
Motorists faced delays of up to two hours after the incident near the Hawthorn Service Station, near Easington, caused both lanes of the southbound carriageway to be closed for more than an hour.
The fire yesterday afternoon started in the engine compartment of the transporter, which was carrying nine new Nissan cars, and quickly spread to five cars.
It started after the driver noticed the smell of smoke, while a passing motorist also caught his attention to the smoke pouring out of the engine.
He managed to drive a quarter of a mile to the nearest layby before the engine cut out.
The driver, who is believed to be from the Northampton area, jumped out of his cab before it burst into flames and phoned emergency services.
The cars had been collected from the Nissan plant in Sunderland yesterday afternoon.
Paul Knox, district manager for the Easington area, said: “Thankfully the driver managed to get the transporter to the nearest layby before the fire took hold.
“In total five of the nine cars on the transporter were destroyed by the fire, but the quick actions of the firefighters meant that the four at the rear were saved.
“The driver managed to get out safely, but his cab was destroyed by the fire, which started in the engine compartment.
“This was quite a unique incident and we don’t get too many of these.”
The blaze destroyed two Qashqais, two Jukes and one Note. Firefighters managed to save four other vehicles.
The cars were due to be delivered to the Stoke and Telford areas.
Crews from Seaham and Peterlee were called to the incident, which happened just after 4pm yesterday.
The fast lane reopened after about an hour and both lanes were open as usual by 7pm.